This year has been a time for me to reflect on what it means to be an elder. I like the term better than crone which gives me images of the Wicked Witch of the West, wart-nosed and all. I know crone means crown and wise woman, but my childhood programming is too strong for me to be happy with the term. I don’t feel like a wise woman, but rather see myself as a seeker aspiring to be wise. The death of my mother a year ago, the birth of my first grandchild in April, and my turning 60 this July has edged me, willing or not, into the elder category.
In many ways I don’t feel like an elder. I’m the me that has always been, who contains the spirited child, the devastated 11-year-old whose father died, the figured-it-all-out 20-year-old, the joyful new mother, the shaky divorcee, the beginning meditator, the happy second wife and so on. Yet, there are some thoughts coming in that have not been there before. How many decades are left? Perhaps only one—or three, if I’m lucky. Does this change how I live my life? I feel I want to be more focused on what is important and to achieve a better balance between work, prayer, study, family and fun, but I’m not sure what that balance is and I know it will require tinkering.
The joy of being a grandmother is delightful and I’ve reflected on what it means to be one, particularly since my granddaughter lives so far away. I’ve come to the conclusion that I serve as the field for the activity of my busy family just as a sports field serves the game at hand. No one pays much attention to the field as they intently watch a game but the field is crucial to the game, the container in which it can unduly.. I take this role as field seriously, holding the space for my family through love, prayer and being present to them. This is what elders do.
I realize that I am also a field when I guide, counsel, and do healing work with others. My role is to be present to the seeker, to connect with the greater divinity within myself and him/ her, and to hold the space for the transformative work to take place. It is feminine work much like that of the womb which supports the growth of the baby. As the field, I have few worries and hassles. I don’t have to figure anything out; I don’t have to prepare mentally or physically; I just have to be present and let the Divine Spirit work. In this way, becoming an elder dovetails with one goal of the spiritual life which is increasingly to let go of ego activity and wait for the spontaneous activity of the divine deeper self.
In reflecting on the role of elder as field, I am reminded of a Rumi poem about the ultimate field: “Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other, doesn’t make any sense.” As we age, even language and ideas can go, but we can increasingly unite with this field, the Source of all things. Dwelling in this field as often as possible will help bring a depth and peace to our families and to all around us.